Growing up, my childhood was pretty atypical from the usual, comfortable middle-class experiences that my friends and classmates had.
Arguing in front of the kids while using a bunch of adult language? Yup. R-rated movies being played while I was still up and could see them? Yes, again. Being able to go without eating my vegetables (or anything healthy, for that matter). That, too, was allowed.
Now that I am grown and have children of my own, I often look back at my childhood with a sense of shock and awe. While I like to think I turned out okay, I decided to parent differently when it was my turn.
While I still think it is a good idea to avoid R-rated movies and profanity-free speech around the kids, it turns out my mother may have been on to something when it came to the food battles.
A new book by Dina Rose called It’s Not About the Broccoli suggests that those rules we all took as the Gospel—like telling a child to at least try a food before deciding they don’t like it, not allowing dessert unless a child finishes their vegetables, etc.—may be wrong.
Rose even claims that “the more parents focus on nutrition, the worse their kids tend to eat.”
Nearly all of us have an anecdote about that kid or kids we knew whose parents were ultra-strict when they were growing up and wouldn’t even allow sugar on their birthdays. The same kids who grew up to gorge on junk food as soon as they were out from under their parents’ roof. Well, it turns out that there is something there.
As Rose found in her research, it is ultimately about control. Refusing to eat the food put before them is one of the few ways very young children can exercise any sort of control over their parents whereas the teen who leaves home and starts eating junk food three times a day or more at college are telling their parents that they can no longer tell them what to eat.
(The latter brings to mind an anecdote from a person I knew at college who expressed the sheer delight she took in eating a bacon double cheeseburger with loaded fries in front of her mother when her parents came for a visit. The girl’s registered dietitian mother could not hide the look of horror from her face.)
However, lest anyone read this and think the solution to avoiding these later food issues involves throwing one’s hand up in the air and letting a child eat whatever they want, they would be mistaken.
Instead, what Rose proposes is a “a systematic approach to introducing children, even the pickiest among them, to foods that are good for them” without expecting them to eat a full serving of it or rewarding them for trying it. She also suggests rotating and trying a variety of food. Another suggestion is that if a kid doesn’t like a food served one way, say steamed cauliflower, then try it another way, maybe roasting it.
As she says, “You can’t make kids eat, but you can influence their decision-making.”
Eating can be and should be fun. Good, tasty food is one of life’s greatest treats. As the parent of a picker eater, I am hoping to incorporate some of these tips myself.
Even if it fails to work now, it may work eventually. At the very least, I can say I tried.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: San Jose Library/Flickr